What made Frieda Caplan so special and so good at lifting us up

What made Frieda Caplan so special and so good at lifting us up

Jim Prevor

frieda and Jim

It was a bittersweet pleasure when, upon the passing of Frieda Rapoport Caplan, we were able to write a piece, “Frieda Caplan: So Good At Lifting Us Up.” Among the many letters we received was one from one of Frieda’s longest standing industry contacts:

Great article on Frieda and also appreciated the reprint of her interview done in Produce Business as the cover story back in 1987.

As you probably know, Frieda and I — and Frieda’s and Vons companies — had a close and unique relationship. Back in 1977, when I first starting buying off of the LA Produce Terminal Market is when I met Frieda. I was buying all of the vegetables and that included the specialty items.  I would make sure that after I did my buying and before I would have breakfast, I would circle back to Frieda’s stall and talk with her.

She gave me great information on specialty produce and great advice on my job and my career development. She was tough, and I respected that. She told me she probably wouldn’t be the cheapest every day, but she would provide so much more — labeled and branded product, marketing to the consumer, and anticipating trends. She certainly lived up to all of those.

After I was promoted to run the produce and floral at Vons and had different buyers buying the specialty produce, I would always have a buyer who could purchase those products someplace at a lower price. When I would challenge the buyer on why they were buying from other than Frieda’s, he would reply it was his job to buy cheaper. I would have to explain that cheaper isn’t always cheaper, and the direct marketing to the consumer was more important — and this was long before social media.

By that time, Frieda’s daughter, Karen, was in the business, and I would ask Karen to bring by the letters from “Vons” customers to show the buyer. It was usually an apple box overflowing with letters. Many of the letters would state that Frieda’s products being available in Vons was one of the main reasons that this consumer would shop with us. These letters would always convince the buyer that cheaper is definitely not always cheaper.

During the interview you published, Frieda give kudos to both Dominick’s and Vons. I recently had dinner with Bob and Teri DiPiazza and mentioned the article. Bob, of course, had been the VP of Produce and, later, the Group VP of Perishables, at Dominick’s Finer Foods in Chicago while I was with Vons in Los Angeles. He told me he had the same evaluation of the Frieda’s program as I did and a special relationship with Frieda.

When my wife, Carole, and I were visiting Israel a few years ago, we planted a tree in Frieda’s name.  For her 90th birthday, we planted 9, and for her 95th we did 10.  We will continue to plant 10 trees each year on her birthday so that she will be remembered forever.

— Dick Spezzano
Spezzano Consulting Service, Inc.
Monrovia, California
[Formerly, VP Produce and Floral, The Vons Companies]

Great minds must truly think alike, as before we received Dick’s wonderful letter, we had sent a note to Frieda’s daughters, Karen and Jackie, explaining that we had planted a grove of 360 trees in Israel in Frieda’s memory. Should you ever visit American Independence Park in Jerusalem, you will be able to see Frieda’s name inscribed on the Wall of Eternal Life.

We are heading off shortly to Los Angeles to attend the Celebration of Life for Frieda Rapoport Caplan, aka the Queen of Kiwi, and, as we do so, we reflect on what made her extraordinary.

First, we would have to say that she turned a handicap — being a woman in business — into an advantage. She told us more than once that for her, at least, being a woman in a man’s world was an advantage. She was remembered and stood out. Of course, as Dick’s letter points out, her advice and counsel were valued.

In the Fear No Fruit documentary, which we had the honor and pleasure of hosting its European premier at our London Produce Show and Conference, she explained that “Success came because I never saw obstacles.” More accurately, she saw every obstacle as an opportunity. She told this Pundit that even those men who thought negatively of women in business still remembered her, while they forgot the twentieth young man traipsing through their office trying to sell them something.

Second, God was looking out for her! How did it come to pass that Frieda should be blessed with two daughters! And daughters interested in business! It seems like the whole narrative would have been different had she had sons who wanted to join the business or had been childless. Mick Heatherington, Vice President of Sales at Prophet North America, commented that he was astounded at how many people in in the United Kingdom knew Frieda’s story.

We were proud to play a little part in extending her fame by hosting the documentary premiere of Fear No Fruit in the UK, but her story was unique. Not many women graduated from college in 1945. But Frieda did, graduating from UCLA with a major in economics and political science. Then she found her way, as a woman, in a very male-dominated industry.

Third, Frieda never gave up. When we were researching to write our piece following Frieda’s passing, we were astounded at the number of emails she had sent since the founding of the technology. Some just to us, some we were copied on… and they went to many influential people in the industry. Long after her daughters, Karen and Jackie, were running the business, she remained engaged with the company and the broader industry.

We thank Dick for writing this letter. What it really says is what all those of us who came to know Frieda realize, the person and the moment met. We shall never know her kind again.

The crown jewel of Jewish consolation are the words,
Ha’makom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar avelei Tziyonvi’Yerushalayim — May God console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

So we extend these words and thoughts to Karen and to Jackie and her husband Doug, to Alex and Sophia, and to Frankie and Rachel.

Karen once commented that Frieda had come to her concerned that she might one day sell the business and Frieda didn’t know what she would do then. Karen promised that if Jackie and Karen ever did sell, they would put in the contract that Frieda could have an office on premises and get to come in whenever she pleased. Well, they don’t need an office now, but there is no doubt Frieda will be looking in on the business that she started and the family, and industry, that she loved.



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